With low-carb being the diet du jour, carbohydates are becoming public enemy number one. In fact, I have clients who are down right terrified of this essential macronutrient. But is this criticism and fear warranted? And are low-carb diets healthy?

First of all, let’s take a step back and define carbohydrates. In addition to fat and protein, carbohydrates complete a group of foods called macronutrients, which are substances required in relatively large amounts by living organisms like humans (as opposed to micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, that are required in smaller amounts). Carbohydrates are a macronutrient consisting of sugars, starch, and cellulose, which can be broken down in the body to release energy.  In a nutshell, carbs are required by the human body for energy, hormone balance, and healthy thyroid function.

One of the biggest sources of carbohydrate confusion is around the  quality. The healthiest types of carbs are found in fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, certain whole grain products, and some dairy foods. Lower quality carbohydrate foods include sugary cereals, crackers, cakes, flours, jelly, bread products, refined potato products, and sugary drinks.

Now that you know what carbohydrates are and which carbs are the healthiest, how do you figure out how many carbs you should eat (I call this your unique carbohydrate tolerance)? Long story short, it depends on your overall health, weight, activity level, and health goals. For example, if you have insulin resistance or are overweight you will likely benefit from a lower carb diet. If you have adrenal issues (HPA Axis Dysfunction) or are very active you might do better on a higher carb diet.  To get you started, here are some examples of how I categorize high, moderate and low carb diets:

  • High carb= >150g
    • Healthy, Very active
  • Moderate carb= 100-150g
    • Weight maintenance, HPA-D
  • Low carb= 50-75g
    • Weight loss, IR
  • Very low carb = <50g

In my experience, men do better than women on low-carb diets. You will have to experiment to find your unique carb tolerance. Because the majority of my clients have some sort of hormone imbalance I don’t typically recommend very low-carb ketogenic diets. Very low-carb diets may cause imbalances in female sex and stress hormones.

I hope this post helps to clear up some of the carb confusion. The take home message is that we need high quality carbs in the right amount to maintain optimal health.

Until next time, make every bite count!